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BJPís liberal mask falls as Advani inches closer to PMO

In a vital cabinet reshuffle the most important component was already finalised two days ahead, on Saturday June 29 with Union Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani being designated as Deputy Prime Minister. A Rashtrapati Bhawan (presidential palace) communiquť stated that the President had designated Advani as Deputy Prime Minister on the advice of the Prime Minister. The communiquť added that he would continue to look after the home ministry and would not be sworn in afresh when new ministers are sworn in.

The 75-year old Advani would be the seventh deputy Prime Minister to hold office. Interestingly, the post of Dy PM does not have any Constitutional validity as it does not exist in the Constitution. The oath administered by the President to any one becoming the deputy Prime Minister merely describes the candidate as a minister and not deputy PM. Parliament too has no seat exclusively earmarked for the deputy PM. According to precedent, the previous Deputy PMs sat next to the Prime Minister on the treasury benches. Mr Advani has been sitting next to Prime Minister Vajpayee, even before being Deputy PM.

Sardar Patel was the Deputy Prime Minister to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru the first Prime Minister. When Pandit Nehruís daughter Indira Gandhi became the countryís Prime Minister, Morarji Desai served as Deputy Prime Minister. However, when Morarji Desai himself became the Prime Minister after the humiliating rout of the Congress Party in 1977, two Deputy PMs -- Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram -- served his government. Later, Charan Singh split the Janata Party and became Prime Minister. He then appointed YB Chavan as the Deputy Prime Minister. Devi Lal served as Deputy PM under the governments of VP Singh and Chandra Shekhar.

Prime Minister Vajpayeeís speech at Lucknow Friday June 28 was as much indicative that Advaniís elevation to the post of deputy PM remained matters of hours only. The proposal for Advaniís elevation was first of all mooted by Defence Minister George Fernandes, who was himself earlier seen as one of the contenders for this post. The NDA allies in the ruling coalition also formally endorsed Advaniís appointment.

Lal Krishna Advani was born at Karachi (now in Pakistan) in 1927. His family migrated to India just before the partition in 1947. He was a journalist and worked for one of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) publications the Organiser. He organised the RSS network in Rajasthan before joining active politics in 1951 when Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerji founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS). He was president of Jana Sangh in 1973 and held this post for three consecutive terms. He pioneered the formation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980 and was president of the party from 1986 to 1991 and again from 1993 to 1998.

During the Janata Party government under the prime ministership of Morarji Desai, Advani held the position of information and broadcasting minister. He has been home minister ever since the Vajpayee government took over in 1998.

It was under the leadership of Advani in 1989 that the controversial rath yatra (motorised chariot journey) for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya replacing the historic Babri Masjid was taken out. BJP, which had only two seats in the Parliament then consolidated its position and bagged 119 seats when the elections took place in the aftermath of the rath yatra, which with its anti-Muslim rhetoric unleashed terrible riots leading to the death of thousands of Muslims.

Key allies of the ruling coalition NDA, Samata Party and Janata Dal (United), have welcomed the Prime Ministerís move and said that the country would now be able to get more political stability. In the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the DMK is yet to react. However, its rival the AIADMK has appreciated Advaniís appointment. AIADMK supremo and Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa has sent congratulatory messages to Advani. Chandrababu Naidu, Telugu Desam Party chief in Andhra Pradesh and a key ally of NDA welcomed the Prime Ministerís decision. Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala was also amongst several of them to congratulate Advani on his elevation.

However RSS, the ideological parent of BJP, has refused to comment. Kishore Kant, media coordinator of RSS said, ďThe RSS should not be commenting on every issue.Ē

No reaction from the key opposition Congress Party was available. CPM leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet has criticised Advaniís elevation and said that the Prime Ministerís move would marginalise other NDA constituents. Muslim leaders and organisations have not yet reacted on Advaniís promotion.

Advani has already been enjoying the No. 2 position in the Union Cabinet and his elevation as Deputy Prime Minister has been merely formalised. The elevation has also signaled the beginning of the end of the Vajpayee era. So far, the Prime Minister was reluctant in bringing Advani to the centrestage. The Time magazineís report on Prime Ministerís health which caused a controversy may be another factor in propelling the move and the virtual admission of the fact that the Prime Minister would not be able to carry on the show for too long. 

At the same time, Advaniís elevation to the post is yet another signal that the Hindutva hawks are here to stay and would be occupying the centrestage. The retention of Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat despite international outcry over anti-Muslim pogrom in the state, the appointment of temple-supporter Vinay Katiyar as chief of BJP in Uttar Pradesh, the RSS endorsement of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) stand that it would not abide by the courtís verdict on Ayodhya -- all are grim indicators of the hard-line Hindutva coming into full play. The party is over. It is now only a return to the basics and giving a go-by to all that looked and sounded ďliberalĒ in the Hindutva lexicon.

With Advaniís ascent the liberal mask of BJP falls and the country shifts further towards the right. 

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